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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

Baron Clancharlie et Hunkerville


The

mysterious society of "Comprachicos" (Spanish for "child-buyers"), on whose malpractices the whole book is founded; the entirely false conception of the English House of Lords, which gives much of the superstructure; the confusion of English and French times and seasons, manners and customs, which enables the writer to muddle up Henri-Trois and Louis-Quinze, Good Queen Bess and Good Queen Anne: these and other things of the kind can be passed over. For things like some of them occur in much saner novelists than Hugo; and Sir Walter himself is notoriously not free from indisputable anachronisms.[114] But you have barely reached the fiftieth page when you come to a "Lord Linnaeus Clancharlie, Baron Clancharlie et Hunkerville, Marquis de Corleone en Sicile," whose English peerage dates from Edward _the Elder_ (the origin of his Sicilian title is not stated, but it was probably conferred by Hiero or Dionysius), and whose name "Clancharlie" has nothing whatever to do with Scotland or Ireland. This worthy peer (who, as a Cromwellian, exiled himself after the Restoration) had, like others of the godly, a bastard son, enjoying at "_temp._ of tale" the remarkable courtesy title of "Lord David Dirry-Moir," but called by the rabble, with whom his sporting tastes make him a great favourite, "Tom-Jim-Jack." Most "love-children" of peers would be contented (if they ever had them) with courtesy titles; but Lord David has been further favoured by Fortune and King James II., who has first induced
the _comprachicos_ to trepan and mutilate Clancharlie's real heir (afterwards Gwynplaine, the eponymous hero of the book), and has then made Lord David a "_pair substitue_"[115] on condition that he marries one of the king's natural daughters, the Duchess Josiane, a duchess with no duchy ever mentioned. In regard to her Hugo proceeds to exhibit his etymological powers, ignoring entirely the agreeable heroine of _Bevis of Hampton_, and suggesting either an abbreviation of "Josefa y Ana" (at this time, we are gravely informed, there was a prevalent English fashion of taking Spanish names) or else a feminine of "Josias." Moreover, among dozens of other instances of this Bedlam nomenclature, we have a "combat of box" between the Irishman "Phelem-ghe-Madone" (because Irishmen are often Roman Catholics?) and the Scotchman "Helmsgail" (there is a place called Helms_dale_ in Scotland, and if "gael" why not "gail"?), to the latter of whom a knee is given by "Lord Desertum" (Desart? Dysart? what?).

And so it goes on. There is the immortal scene (or rather half-volume) in which, Hugo having heard or read of _peine forte et dure_, we find sheriffs who discharge the duty of Old Bailey judges, fragments of Law Latin (it is really a pity that he did not get hold of our inimitable Law _French_), and above all, and pervading all, that most fearful wildfowl the "wapentake," with his "iron weapon." He, with his satellite the justicier-quorum (but, one weeps to see, not "custalorum" or "rotalorum"), is concerned with the torture of Hardquanonne[116]--the original malefactor[117] in Gwynplaine's case--and thereby restores Gwynplaine to his (unsubstituted) rank in the English peerage, when he himself is anticipating similar treatment. There is the presentation by the librarian of the House of Lords of a "little red book" which is the passport to the House itself: and the very unmannerly reception by his brother peers, from which he is in a manner rescued by the chivalrous Lord David Dirry-Moir at the price of a box on the ears for depriving him of his "substitution." There is the misconduct of the Duchess Josiane, divinely beautiful and diabolically wicked, who covets the monster Gwynplaine as a lover, and discards him when, on his peerification, he is commanded to her by Queen Anne as a husband. And then, after all this tedious insanity and a great deal more, there is the finale of the despair of Gwynplaine, of his recovery of the dying Dea in a ship just starting for Holland, of her own death, and of his suicide in the all-healing sea--a "reconciliation" not far short of the greatest things in literature.


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